My rough draft of this Sunday’s sermon, keyword, ROUGH.
Down the Mountain
Ah, Valentine’s Day. Thank you all for spending your romantic day here at church. Although since this Hallmark Holiday really is about a priest who was arrested for marring Christians, beaten with clubs and rocks and then beheaded, maybe we should be in church every Feb. 14th. The truth is today is a big day in the life of the church. Not because we celebrate Valentine’s Day but because it is Transfiguration Sunday. It is the Sunday before we start the journey of Lent together. It is the day that Christ’s divinity is displaced for the three disciples to see. It is the day that I blinded you children with 1000 watts of light.
This year I wanted to focus this sermon on the whole story of what happened that day, not just the mountain top experience. The mountain top is important. The Transfiguration of Jesus ranks up there in the top 5 moments in Jesus’ life and it probably in the top 3 important Sundays. On the mountain top Jesus’ true nature is unveiled. Jesus is seen as 100% human and 100% God. In this moment Peter, James and John are welcomed into a place only a few go and they are astounded with what they see. The mountain top is extremely important but like any mountain top you can’t stay there forever.
It was a classic Appliacican winter storm. The wind was howling, snow was coming down, and the temperature was dropping. As my roommates and I sat in the house we rented in Montreat, NC, we watched TV and the windows to see what the storm was doing. If you have never been to Montreat before you should go because it is truly a glorious sight. It is nestled into a small cove in the shadows of the seven sisters and Graybeard’s Mountain. There is a very popular trail to climb up to a place we called Lookout. It was a pretty easy trail and the view from up there was wonderful. On that wintery, snowy, stormy night my roommate looked at me and said, I wonder what it would be like to climb Lookout in this storm. Being the brilliant, smart, and rational college senior I was, I looked at him and said, “Let’s find out.” We bundled up and we started to the 2 mile climb.
Snow was coming down and making small drifts along the trail. In the darkness we could make out the trees swaying in the 20 mph wind. We continued to hike. When Nathan and I finally got to the top of the mountain the wind was whipping over the peak. It didn’t feel like 20 mph anymore, it was more like 60. It felt like the wind got a running start in the valley and was full steam by the time it crested Lookout Mountain. We go to the very popular rocks that we have stood on before and saw the campus and the surrounding peaks. Instead we saw nothing but blowing snow. The four layers of clothes I was wearing started to feel like one of those outfits that skydivers wear. I crawled the last 30 feet up to the peak and watched as Nathan stood up but then dropped back down to his knees. With my adrenaline pumping like a drummer doing a roll, I too stood up and then dropped back down. The wind felt like it would take us away, like at any moment we would be blown off the mountain. It took us about and hour to hike up that mountain, which is almost twice as long as a normal hike on a normal day. We stayed on that peak for about 1 minute and then headed down into the trees for safety.
When we got back under the trees the wind died down and it was quieter. When we hit the campus again the snow had started to subside and it was a long boring walk back to our house. As we walked into the living room, we brushed off the snow and said to one another, “Well that was fun,” and we settled back down to watch some more TV.
That is one of my most memorable mountain top experiences. I wonder if Jesus was looking forward to this trip up the mountain. I wonder if he knew that when he got up there he could finally be himself. Think about it. For over 30 years, Jesus had been trapped in this human body. He was God, who created the world we live in, who knew no limitations and was now stuck in human form until his task was completed. On the top of this mountain is where he had the ability to be free once again, to let loose, to be truly himself. Instead of keep his God side hidden or only slightly revealed to everyone he could let himself go in front of his most trusted friends. What relief he must have felt. What a sense of peace and excitement. Yet, he couldn’t stay there for long. He too had to come down the mountain.
What was happening at the bottom of the mountain was nothing what Jesus wanted to deal with. Jesus took three disciples up the mountain with him, leaving nine at the bottom. Crowds followed Jesus and his herd everywhere and this was also the case. It seems that a man had brought his son, who was possessed by a demon, and wanted Jesus to heal him. When he learned that Jesus was up the mountain he asked if the disciples could do it. They couldn’t do it although they had tried.
The famous artist Raphael did an amazing piece of art about this event in Jesus’ life. Bobby is going to put it up on the screen for you. As you look at it you can see Jesus, in all his glory up there with Moses and Elijah. The disciples are cowering in fear. Below the mountain top though there is turmoil and frustration. You can see the possessed boy (in blue) being held by his father. The crowd with them is all focused on the disciples who look panicked and worried. Some are pointing up to Jesus, possibly saying, “Hey look, we can’t do this, you will have to wait until Jesus gets back.” Others look like they are attempting to reach out and help while others look like they are moving away from the scene.
This looks like it could have been the situation that Jesus walks back into after his mountain top experience. He had just heard his father, God, speak through a cloud and say, “Listen to him,” and yet the disciples hadn’t listened. Jesus had given them the power to remove demons. In the sixth chapter of Mark it says, “Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” Before the Transfiguration, Jesus had given them the power to do what the father was asking. They had everything they needed to do the work of God but they couldn’t. Instead some of them told the father to wait for Jesus, or that they weren’t the right person for the job. Or since they failed once they simply gave up trying again.
Jesus walks down on a spiritual high to find his disciples dealing with reality. They were dealing with suffering, ministerial needs, needs of the community, and they couldn’t handle it. It is possible that these disciples lost track of who they were following and the power that comes with it.
I think we do this as a Church as well. Not just Trinity, church will a little c, but Church with a capital C, all of Christendom. I think when we stare at the reality of the world around us we get overwhelmed with the work we are to do. If we could we would stay up there on the mountain top. We would do exactly what Peter wants to do. We would build a hut up there and live in God’s glory forever, yet that is not what we are called to do. We are to serve Christ and make disciples. To do that means we have to get our hands dirty. We have to learn to heal the possessed boy.
Jesus looks at the disciples and he tells them, “O unbelieving and perverse generation.” This is not a compliment. You can sense Jesus’ frustration and you cannot blame him. He had a wonderful moment on top of that mountain and now it is being crushed by the inability of his followers. Didn’t they hear his commission when he sent them out two by two? Did they already forget the abilities that Jesus granted them? Did they forget who it was they were following?
As we enter the season of Lent we get the opportunity to remind ourselves who the God that we worship truly is. Whether it is through your Lenten Discipline of giving something up or adding something meaningful to your life, the idea is that during these 40 days, we connect with God on a deeper level in order for us to realize and welcome the gift of Easter.
The disciples needed to remember that up on that mountain was God in human form and as we head into these dark 40 days we too need to remember who he is as well. Jesus Christ is God, the God-Man, 100% God and 100% Man. He is the Messiah. He is the one who walked on water, fed 5000 with two fish and five loaves, who healed the sick, lame and blind, who casts out our demons, who shuck the foundation of the religious leaders, who was counter-cultural in his teachings, who loved like no one else, lived like no one else, died like no one else, and rose like no one else.
We worship God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God enables us to do anything in his name. The world around us is suffering and we are called to do something to help. We have the power, we have the ability because all we need to do is call on the name of the one who makes it all possible. We need to experience the mountain top but we also need to come down into reality and be the Church for the world. Our choice is clear, will we be an unbelieving and perverse generation, or will we follow the directions of the voice in the cloud, who tells us “This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to him”?
And all God’s people said…Amen.